Opera on the Avalon is committed to bringing compelling stories to life through the magic of the singing voice: the most powerful, authentic, and expressive instrument of all. We are committed to presenting modern works receiving critical acclaims, and new tellings of our own history. Opera on the Avalon is mandated to turn history into art with the development of new operatic works while bringing opera to all ages and demographics in an underserved community on a broader scale.
General & Artistic Director
Cheryl Hickman is the General and Artistic Director of Opera on the Avalon (Newfoundland), a company she founded in 2009. She has been the Artistic Director since its inception and took on the role of General Director in 2014. She established OOTA’s Creation Investment Fund, which resulted in Atlantic Canada’s first grand opera commission, that helped OOTA to win numerous awards, including BMO/ Arts NL Artist of the year in 2017.
Her tenure at OOTA has seen critical acclaim for her bold and challenging programming, particularly in terms of her approach to turning history into art as part of a dialogue about the relevance of opera in today’s society. OOTA’s commissions such as John Estacio and Robert Chafe’s Ours, Kathleen Allen’s The Danger Tree, and Dean Burry and Yvette Nolan’s upcoming Shanawdithit are demonstrating the capacity for commissioned works to bring new audiences to the opera house. She has successfully made the case that traditional operas should also be a source of contemporary excitement and relevance for the people of her region as well as the country.
As both a performer and an administrator she has consistently championed women artists by establishing professional mentorships and development opportunities for female conductors, composers, librettists, directors, production staff, and administrators. She has created local programming that has resulted in employment partnerships with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Job Creation Partnership Program, ensuring the presence, development and participation of regional artists and artisans. Hickman has also been responsible for establishing Eastern Canada’s only comprehensive summer professional training program for Emerging Artists from around the world, and mounts Atlantic Canada’s only summer opera festival held every year in May and June which is sponsored in part by RBC’s emerging artists fund. During her tenure as Artistic and General Director, OOTA has increased its operating budget by 2100%, achieving 9 consecutive surplus seasons, and performing to audiences at more than 85% capacity. This has involved cultivating donors to support productions not previously performed within the region, such as Dead Man Walking, The Brothers Grimm and The Turn of the Screw. At OOTA she has developed and strengthened the points of connection between the performing arts and civic impact, including the major public art installation Garden of Tears, funded by RBC and the Cahill Group, and supported by Canadian Heritage, with patronage and participation by His Excellency, The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. These civic impact initiatives have also developed new areas for private and public partnerships with stakeholders throughout the region.
In 2017 Hickman was appointed to the Canada Council for the Arts. She has been Chair of the Board for Opera.ca since 2015, having previously served as Vice Chair. She was appointed to the City of St. John’s Arts Advisory Board in 2015. Most significantly, in the past seven years she has led successful negotiations with provincial and federal governments and agencies to secure significant investment towards increasing access to the arts. This funding has enabled OOTA to offer inclusive, multidisciplinary performances that are accessible to audiences in rural areas, Indigenous people, youth, minority-language communities, new arrivals and people with disabilities.
Hickman studied Music and Opera at the University of Toronto (1988-95) followed by a Masters of Music (Honours) at The Juilliard School (1995-97). She was awarded a placement as a young artist at the Juilliard Opera Centre, before returning home to Canada as a member of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble.
Hickman’s early career began as a soprano performing to critical acclaim with some of the foremost operatic companies throughout North America and Europe including New York City Opera, Vancouver Opera, Calgary Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, Manitoba Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Florida Grand Opera and Opera Français. Hickman has also been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Prize, the Sullivan Foundation Grant, the George London Foundation Kirsten Flagstad Award, and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Throughout her career, Hickman has been active in many professional associations and is in demand as a lecturer, clinician, and teacher. She has been an adjudicator, assessor and board member for numerous organizations throughout Atlantic Canada. An active member in her community, Hickman is an advisor for Business and the Arts NL, an Honorary Patron of the Atlantic Boy Choir, Co-chair of Women’s Opera Network at Opera America, Past chair and current board member Opera.ca and is a recipient of 2020’s Atlantic Business Magazine Top 50 CEOs award.
Judith Yan is a Canadian conductor. Equally adept at conducting opera, ballet, and symphony, her career has taken her internationally, conducting for major companies in Europe, Asia, and North America. She has held Staff Conductor positions at San Francisco Opera, Canadian Opera Company, and National Ballet of Canada.
Her recent debuts were celebrated with critical acclaim: “In her Vancouver Opera debut, Canadian Conductor Judith Yan really shone in the pit, bringing extraordinarily lyrical and expressive playing from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra.” (Opera Canada 2018) “The Edmonton Symphony played splendidly under Judith Yan…coaxed many vivid, dramatically transparent moments from the players.” (Opera Canada 2019) “Judith Yan, her Seattle Opera debut, conducted the orchestra with vigorous and deep symphony for the score.” (Classical Voice America, 2017). “Under the direction of Canadian conductor Judith Yan, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra is simply wonderful.” (Greg Ross, 2018)
While with the San Francisco Opera, she served as Staff Conductor, assistant to Maestro Donald Runnicles, where her performances of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress for San Francisco Opera was included in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top Ten Classical Performances of the Year. Prior to San Francisco Opera, she served as the first Conductor-in-Residence of the Canadian Opera Company. As the Principal Conductor of Opera on the Avalon since 2010, she has lead numerous productions including Tosca, La Boheme, Tosca, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi, La Traviata, Albert Herring, and Dead Man Walking.
Recent performances include 3 critically acclaimed world-premieres: Jack Perla’s An American Dream for Seattle Opera and John Estacio’s Ours for Opera on the Avalon, Krzysztof Pastor’s Dracula for West Australian Ballet; and company debuts with National Arts Centre Orchestra for Cynthia Harvey’s Sleeping Beauty, Teatr Wielki in Warsaw for Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew, West Australian Ballet and West Australian Symphony for Lucette Aldous’s Don Quixote, and Yury Grigorovich’s La Bayadère for Korean National Ballet and Korean Symphony.
2020/21 includes Hong Kong Ballet for Don Quixote, a debut with Saskatoon Symphony, Powder Her Face with Opera on the Avalon, and Orfeo with Kentucky Opera.
Board of Directors
As an organization, we must now look at how we have operated in the past, how our values have evolved with our growing understanding of racial injustice, and how we can do our part in making the future – both within and outside of the arts – a better and safer place.
We must use our platform to tell new and relevant stories about and by those who have been historically underrepresented and excluded from the opera community.
We encourage artists and community members to please reach out and share ideas about how we can effectively create change in our organization and the performing arts sector. All voices are welcome on this journey to create a fully inclusive environment and demolish oppression in the arts.
We respectfully acknowledge the land on which we gather as the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk [bee-oth-uck], whose culture has now been erased forever. We also acknowledge the island of Ktaqmkuk [dah-gmm-gook] (Newfoundland) as the unceded, traditional territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq [mig-maw]. And we acknowledge Labrador as the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Innu [in-ew] of Nitassinan [ne-tass-eh-nen], the Inuit [in-yoo-eet] of Nunatsiavut [nu-nat-see-ah-vut], and the Inuit of NunatuKavut [nu-nah-tuhk-ah-vut]. We recognize all First Peoples who were here before us, those who live with us now, and the seven generations to come. As First Peoples have done since time immemorial, we strive to be responsible stewards of the land and to respect the cultures, ceremonies, and traditions of all who call it home. As we open our hearts and minds to the past, we commit ourselves to working in a spirit of truth and reconciliation to make a better future for all.
Opera on the Avalon
Suite 311, Terrace on the Square
8-10 Rowan Street
St. John’s, NL, A1B 2X1
(709) 738 1322
Opera on the Avalon is funded in part by The Government of Canada, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the City of St. John’s, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council.